ITALY: Israeli, Palestinian Youth Find Common Ground at Adventist Camp
Twenty Israeli and Palestinian boys and girls, together with their leaders and a group of scouts from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, have planted “Flowers of Peace,” a tangible reminder that dialogue is possible. The ceremony took place July 24 amid the beautiful scenery of Casentino in Tuscany, under the shade of the Castle of Poppi (Arezzo).
Graziano Agostini, the mayor of Poppi (Arezzo), welcomed the delegation and thanked organizers for hosting the events and hoped that more people will come in the future. Daniele Benini, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy, and Roberto Iannò, an educator from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy, also attended the event.
Now in its third year, the Flowers for Peace project invites Israeli and Palestinian teenagers to Italy. After spending some time together, they join Italian teenagers for summer events such as camps organized by churches, associations, or institutions or for regular academic activities.
FACE TO FACE: Israeli, Palestinian teenagers
speak among themselves during Flowers of
Peace summer camp program, organized by
the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy.
Daniele Calà, the national director of Italian Adventist Scout Association (AISA), explained: “Every morning on the campgrounds of Casuccia Visani we raise four flags: the Palestinian, Israeli, Italian, and AISA flags. In our summer camps we try to create a small heaven, a place where ‘weapons will be turned into instruments of peace.’”
Mustafa, a counselor who has assisted with the project for several years, emphasized that continuing the program is indeed very important. He added that the event is a therapeutic program that can offer meaningful hope to these teenagers. A series of psychological studies has revealed just how difficult it is for teenagers to live under the constant threat of terrorist attacks.
Organizing educational programs that allow teenagers to meet in a safe and relaxed environment facilitates dialogue and the development of friendships. This kind of initiative demonstrates that it is possible to break down the barriers of indifference, hate, and fear; it is possible to build a culture of peace, based on dialogue and common experiences.
“What you are doing,” said Simone Pellegrini, head of the Department of Infrastructures for Arezzo County, “is proof that it is possible to live together peacefully. It is from people like you that the inspiration comes to undertake a different approach to conflict. We have the moral obligation to build bridges.”
Of particular interest is the experience of Majd, a Palestinian girl who, because she had already participated in a similar program in the past, served as a group leader. Majd said, “Different experiences and influences shape our personalities, but through living together in different contexts we can enjoy life and develop positive relationships. This project allows us to touch each other’s souls.”
Flowers of Peace is sponsored by the monthly magazine Confronti, which promotes inter-faith dialogue. This year two Flowers of Peace delegations participated in two summer camps run by AISA. Israeli and Palestinian teenagers stayed at Casuccia Visani, the Adventist campground located in Poppi (Arezzo), until July 26, when they joined the international Adventist scout camporee currently taking place through August 6, in Fontainebleau, France. About 2,000 youth have come from several European countries to participate in the event.
The Israeli and Palestinian delegations come from places where mistrust and fear prevail, so words of deep appreciation need to be extended to the organizers of Flowers of Peace for creating opportunities to build peaceful, positive attitudes of respect and appreciation for other people.
—by Vincenzo Annunziata, Italy, with Euro-Africa Division staff.